Ari Shaffir is not funny.
Well, let me be kind, as I am urged to be by both Judaism and Christianity: Ari Shaffir was not funny between approximately 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on May 18 at the Funny Bone “comedy” club in west Omaha. Perhaps Ari has had his moments at other times and other places, perhaps around the Thanksgiving table or on the phone with his mom, where, one hopes, the graphically pornographic “material” that masquerades as his comedy routine might briefly be laid aside.
I knew I shouldn’t have gone.
It was a Saturday, and the winsome Mrs. Curtin was looking for something to do that evening other than the usual dinner and a movie. Let’s go to a comedy club, she said, quite in that way that people decide to buy a lottery ticket: Maybe this time we’ll get lucky. I knew the odds were heavy against such a happy outcome. I last walked through the doors of the Funny Bone about 20 years ago and was even then assaulted by some long-forgotten no-talent who thought porn and shock were adequate substitutes for wit and whimsy.
I saw that “Ari Shaffir” was appearing. I had never heard of him, though my son told me, the day after my migraine-inducing encounter, that he is a big name on the standup circuit.
It is, of course, impossible for me here to plumb the depths of Shaffir’s sexploitation humor, in particular his sordid descriptions of homosexual and heterosexual behavior. For an hour he furiously scraped the bottom of the comedy barrel, as though treasure lay just below. He granted a respite from porn only to mock, with the standard brutality of the apostate, the Judaism in which he was raised and which he has since renounced.
Did people laugh? Yes, though it was intermittent and never engulfed the room. It struck me as the dutiful laughter of the hip and the cool, feeling an obligation to reward any assault on traditional niceties and courtesies. It was the kind of laughter that you could suppress if you wished, unlike healthy laughter responding to real humor, which does not permit suppression.
The truth revealed itself at the end of this hour of dour, when the lights came on and the crowd filed out. There was none of the bonhomie and residual laughter that typifies a genuine comedy experience.
I saw no one sharing a particularly witty Shaffirian bon mot or laughing anew as they recalled an especially clever insight. They just filed out, unsmiling, as though they shared with me the sense that they had gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.
I remember when this sort of thing began showing up. People used to talk about “blue” comedians and “blue” comedy. It was a reference to a new form of comedy that pushed boundaries that some people apparently thought needed to be pushed. Today, it is neither new nor daring. It is, once you escape the remaining and tattered sancity of the public airwaves, utterly conformist.
Driving home in silence, Mrs. Curtin finally spoke, observing that Jerry Seinfeld achieved great success without resorting to the gutter. Yes, I said, and look what happened to him. He became a mega superstar because real comedians who traffic in real comedy, who work hard to identify and then describe the oddities and ironies of life, are extremely rare, rather like musicians who produce real melody and memorable songs are wholly superior to the hordes of wannabees who merely rearrange a few repetitive chords.
I should not be wholly unfriendly to the Funny Bone.
The steak dinner was very good.